On the Authority of Muaadh Ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Shall I not inform you of the gates of goodness? [They are] fasting [which] is a shield, charity [which] extenguishes the sins like water extinguishes a fire and the prayer of a man in the depths of the night.” [Recorded by al-Tirmidhi]
In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) has called fasting a shield, like the shield that one uses in the battlefield. The shield protects a person from the enemy and fasting protects a person from committing sins and from entering the Hell-fire.
Ibn Rajab points out that fasting is a shield only if the act of fasting is not harmed by foul or improper speech. Then Ibn Rajab makes the point that if fasting is not a shield from committing sins in this world, it will not be a shield from the Hell-fire in the next. Al-Baitaar points out that the word for shield is in the indefinite. This implies that it can be every type of shield. It is a shield from the Hell-fire, from Allah’s anger, from disease in this world, from straying from the Straight Path, from becoming arrogant and so forth.
The reference here is to voluntary charity not the obligatory zakat. Furthermore, the sins referred to here are the minor sins that are between a human and Allah. The major sins are not included here nor are the acts of wrong done toward others. The major sins are not extinguished by charity but are in need of repentance. Wrong done toward others need their forgiveness.
The word jauf when used along with the word night means the middle of the night. That is the case here. There are many aspects that make the late-night prayer special. First and foremost, it is a prayer. The best action or matter is prayer. Second, the prayer said in the late-night is more virtuous than the voluntary prayers during the day because it is further from ostentation and being done for show. Furthermore, it is easy to have the fear of Allah and concentrate on the prayer in the late-night prayer as there are few disturbances at that time. It increases one’s sincerity to Allah.
“Commentary on the Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi” – Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo, pp 1093-1101 (Courtesy:FridayNasiha)